Comic Solutions

Book Review–Sailor Twain

Sailor Twain or The Mermaid in the Hudson
Mark Siegel
October 2012

One hundred years ago a steamboat traveled along the Hudson River, captained by a man named Twain.  One dark rainy evening Captain Twain rescues an injured mermaid, carried her back to his cabin and began nursing her back to health.  And from that one act of kindness a terrible event is set in motion, that will shape the lives and destiny of all involved–the captain, a French nobleman named Lafayette, and a reclusive author named C.G. Beaverton with a secret.  For the mermaid has a secret and a curse…and she seeks to ensnare anyone that she can to help her.  There’s only one proven method for breaking the mermaid’s curse.  How many will fall prey to her powers?  And how many will come out whole in the end?

Sailor Twain.  That name just conjures up so many different memories if you’re familiar with literature and Mark Twain.  And while this story doesn’t have Mark Twain in it (it doesn’t reference him though) it does capture that essence of the river and its denizens.  The characters are captivating and from that very first page you want to know what happens to them, what made them be the way they are, especially Lafayette, the French nobleman.  And the situations the characters are placed in feel real, they make you wonder what you would do in a similar situation.  Would you be able to avoid the temptation of the mermaid’s call?

The thing I love most about this book is the sheer amount of research and historical content that Mark adds to the story.  Dropping in names, characters, and places from the real world to create a fantastic and jaw dropping tale.  FirstSecond is one of my favorite publishers, in part because they’ve been taking chances on the stories they tell and how they deliver these stories to the world.  Lately they’ve taken to serialize some of the comics online–such as Tune, Friends With Boys, and this one–which gives readers a chance to build a community around the work, which ties into my favorite part of the historical context of the story given just how much is shared by Mark and the community at large.  I love the fact that he shares in the blog what influenced him while creating this work, as well as sharing images and articles that fans dug up.  I could see this being a great a book to use in a history class to help reluctant students see history come to life.  Ok yes the teacher would have to explain the mermaid but still…even that was a part of lore during the time period.  I wish that the printed book could capture all of the blog posts and the community built around this story.  Hopefully once the book is printed the posts and comments will remain because they offer such great additional material.

I absolutely love Mark’s illustrations.  The smoky charcoal quality adds an air of mystery and suspense to the story.  It makes it feel like we’re really reading about something that happened on the banks of the Hudson a 100 years ago and I feel like I can hear the river lapping against the shore and the sound of the boats upon the river.  And that’s a feeling that I love.  Mark’s style reminds me of one of my other favorite FirstSecond works, Three Shadows.  Although Three Shadows, charcoal lines are much more fluid and dynamic on the page, Mark captures some of that same intensity within the way his characters move and float on the page.  The one thing that caught me a bit off guard with the print book vs the webbased comic is the paper choice.  In the webbased version you can see that Mark choose a stark white paper to sketch upon, which adds an interesting dynamic to the story with the stark white vs. the stark black.  The printed version is more of a cream color, which helps age the story and adds a different dimension to it, almost as if we’re reading the diary of Captain Twain from a 100 years ago.  I’m a little bit more partial to the webbased version paper, but for those that are just encountering the story for the first time the print version makes it feel like we’re really diving into history.  ***It should be noted that Mark draws the mermaid in her natural state, ie topless (I mean seriously what self respecting mermaid would war clothes?) Just in case you don’t like that sort of thing.***

While the story stands alone, I recommend that readers also go and take a look at the blog and the community built there for some great extra material.  This is great addition to any collection and I highly recommend it.  I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.

Review copy provided by Gina at FirstSecond

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